[Discuss-sudbury-model] Standard Tests Destroy the Educational System

From: David Rovner <rovners_at_netvision.net.il>
Date: Fri Mar 18 17:56:00 2005

Standard Tests Destroy the Educational System

         Each time they are administered, the statewide standardized tests given to fourth grade, eight grade, and twelfht grade students are mulled over and discussed in the Press and in various school administrative offices. One town wonders why its students did so poorly compared to the average, another town prides itself on its good results, yet another town takes pride in being above average but worries about a drop from last year, and so forth. Communities rate themeselves and their schools according to these absolute and comparative results, and everyone seems to take it for granted that these relatively new tests are wonderful measure of something very important about the education of our children.


         Actually, it is impossible to exaggerate the devastating negative effect these tests are having on our schools. For starters, let's ask ourselves: what are these tests? What do they consist of? The answear is: they are strings of questions that attempt to measure the retention by students of certain facts and particular skills. Once we examine closely the assumptions on which the tests are based, we can begin to gain insight into their insidious character.


         Firs of all, who makes up the tests? The writers are themselves members of the educational establishment, who have been asked to judge exxactly what is and what is not important for evertyone at certain grade level to know. Who bestowed such Divine knowledge on this group of people? Who can claim to have such a wisdom as to know such matters with surety -- with enough surety to make this knowledge a benchmark for thousand of children? What man or woman can claim to have the ability to sort of the infinite reservoire of human knowledge those few particular tidbits that are essential for all?


         If such a system were to be established anywhere else but in schools, there would be such a public outcry that the proponents would huden in shame. Isn't the universal adherence to a given limited set of facts and actions the essence of dogmatism, of autocracy, of psychological repression? Have we not always despised countries where such demands are made? Do we not revel in our variety, our freedom from mental constraints? How, then, can we justify investing in a group of teachers the power to judge all children according to the measures these teachers have decided to set up as absolute and proper?


         And what about the very idea of uniform standards? Does it really make sense to want every ten year old, or fourteen year old, or eighteen year old to master the same material? THE WORST RESULT I CAN IMAGINE WOULD WOULD BE THAT EVERY STUDENT IN THE STATE GOT A PERFECT SCORE! What a terrifying prospect! Do we really want to live in such a Brave New World? And if it's good for those ages, why stop there? Why not keep up the good work, and test people every four years until their dotage, to make sure they haven't deviated from the best norms our testers can devise?


         Do people have an idea what these tests are doing to the schools of our various towns and cities? As time goes on, and preformance on these tests becomes ever more important as a measure of schools' success, more and more energy being channeled into making sure that children do well on tests. Test performance becomes ever more paramount, and ever larger amounts of energy and time are poured into this sterile excercise. I am not speculating in this matter. The same thing has happened everywhere that standarized test have been introduced. Over fifty years ago, for example, it became clear that subjecting all New York high school students to statewide Regents Exams in every subject leveled the instruction throughout the state to a uniform mediocrity that has never been trascended. Much the same has happened with SAT's, which have become an end in themselves for college admissions, and overshadow any potentially productive learning a student might otherwise have engaged in during the latter high school years.


         It is not too late to abandon these insidious tests. On second thougt, perhaps it is too late, for the time being; perhaps it will take many more years of this madness before the central authorities realize that they are stifling the very educational system they think they want to improve. But one thing we can do to fight this madness on a local level is TO IGNORE THE TEST RESULTS in any and every discussion of our local school. If local communities decide, each on their own, to concentrate on what THEY think is important and to ignore what anyone else tells them is important, there is still hope that we can avoid the dulling uniformity that these tests seek to impose.


["Standard Tests Destroy the Educational System", Education In America -- A View from
Sudbury Valley, Daniel Greenberg, 1992, pg. 81.] [http://www.sudval.org/05_onli_10.html ]

"Standard tests destroy the educational system and tests on "basics" are full of absurdities"

What is "whatchamacallit" ?

----- Original Message -----
From: "Barbara Walker" <brainfest_at_yahoo.com>
To: <discuss-sudbury-model_at_sudval.org>
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 9:05 PM
Subject: [Discuss-sudbury-model] testing and sudbury valley

> In West Virginia, the only requirement for private
> schools and home schools to be legal is a minimum
> average score (I think 50% norm) on annual
> standardized testing of all children. That's one
> number, an average of the scores for all the students.
> For home schools, portfolio assessment by any
> certified teacher is an allowable alternative. There
> may be a way for a private school to use the portfolio
> assessment alternative. Of course, one could argue,
> this also interferes with freedom.
> One option would be to discuss in a school meeting the
> legal obligations of of the school, whether the school
> members want the school to be legal, or pursue change
> in the law, perhaps to eventually participate in an
> act of civil disobedience. The school does not exist
> in a vacuum. We live in this state, and we have these
> laws. Part of democracy is to follow even the laws
> one disagrees with, even while working to change them.
> The members of the school might decide to take the
> test, rather than take on the huge task of changing
> the law. I dare say the work and risk of changing the
> law takes a lot more time and energy than sitting down
> and filling in circles for two days.
> The school could have this discussion annually. At
> some point, it might be time to fight the fight.
> I think free children could come up with lots of
> interesting ways to fulfill the letter of the law,
> without allowing it to interfere with their overall
> sense of freedom and responsibility. I know a lot of
> homeschooled children who see the two days of testing
> as a big game, and don't care at all about their
> scores. And it is just not that hard to meet the
> requirements of the law. In fact, some students could
> probably refuse to take the test on the grounds that
> it interferes with their own beliefs, and the school
> as a whole could still meet the requirements of the
> law.
> I'm not sure about the automatic holding back part,
> but since there are no grades, one could on paper,
> hold the child back and then the next year, have them
> skip a grade. Or have them graduate a year "early"
> because they have met the requirements. One thing
> children can learn living outside the box of the State
> education system is learning how to not allow the
> State's labels be their own labels.
> The portfolio option is also quite doable, and for
> many children enjoyable. All that is involved, on the
> simplest level, is saving examples of the student's
> work (even if everyone else in the world calls it
> play) and showing the certified teacher (it's
> generally not hard to find one who has SVS
> sensibilities) that the student has learned and grown
> over the year. Since healthy free children can't help
> but grow and learn, this is not that hard to show. :)
> When I did it with my unschooled children, I kept
> short notes to show the wide range of discussion
> topics we covered, as my son learned mostly by reading
> and talking with whoever would listen. You could say
> that having to keep these notes is interference, but
> it wasn't enough interference for me to feel the need
> to spend a lot of time and energy hiring a lawyer and
> going after the law, with one possible outcome being
> worse laws.
> There is also a third option for homeschools, which is
> "an alternative method agreed upon between the parents
> and the superintendent." I learned in college that
> the rules always had exceptions, and the way to go
> about breaking a rule is to ask up the hierarchy for
> permission to meet the spirit of the rule in some
> other way. If you can convince someone with authority
> to sign a paper saying you meet the requirements of
> the law in *this* way, you have no worries.
> Having worked in a bureaucracy, I can tell you that
> CYA is the name of the game. In a way, there isn't
> really anyone in power who honestly cares
> about the overall health of the students; they believe
> that the rules were made to insure that, and their job
> is to care about whether the rules are being followed.
> This is a grossly oversimplified statement, as I'm
> sure there are people who care. Those are the ones
> you can find to help you make the exceptions to the
> rules.
> *Unless* you have the people power to go after a real
> change in the laws. But that has to be done with what
> I call a hundred year attitude. Whenever I am asking
> the State to make a change in the law that requires a
> paradigm shift, I recall that it took a hundred years
> of the Women's Suffrage Act being introduced to the US
> congress before women were finally allowed to vote.
> It is going to take a long time to convince lawmakers
> that standardized testing as a method of assessing
> children, rather than a way to hold schools
> accountable, is wrong. Even as a way to hold schools
> accountable, it is a poor method.
> By the way, I'm new here. I live in Morgantown, West
> Virginia, and have had an SVS dream for a long, long
> time.
> Barbara
> "You can't have freedom without... whatchamacallit."
> -Ben, age 10
Received on Fri Mar 18 2005 - 17:55:52 EST

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